[Monday] Idea of the Week

Happy late Monday/Tuesday! Happy second week of Hell Month. During our G+ hangouts over the weekend, the topic of religious fanfic/story-writing came up as a topic to write about, and I’m happy to explore it.

I consider everything I write to be religious fanfic. It’s all my interpretations and understandings of the Four Gods and their spirits. I used to easily call it myth, but I hesitate from that now. Not that it isn’t myth – I still consider it so – but because of the weight of the term. I wrote myths; other people joining in the Otherfaith were largely uncomfortable doing so. ‘Religious fanfic’ was a way to encourage mythic-fictional contributions from others. Slowly, my mind shifted my own work into that perspective.

Rather than having a cohesive canon for us to build off of, we’re all blending together our ideas, throwing them at the wall until we say, “That fits!” Or until we shake our heads and say, “No, that doesn’t work.” It’s interesting that we are reverse-engineering this way: starting with fan stories and figuring out the canon from them. But we know the gods through us, so I suppose that’s how it has to happen.

These stories can be third person views from a god or second person perspectives. They can be prose or poetry – such as here and here. They could be heavily spirit-focused or emphasize setting. What matters is that they are created. Also, we have some of the myths put to audio now – thanks to Faemon – that you can listen to here.

Fanfic is a word that should free us. We can be daring; we don’t have to worry about getting the gods and spirits ‘right’. We’re tossing our ideas out. Ultimately, the exercise of it should help us understand our gods better. We should find new sides and new forms. We can form clearer pictures of how they manifest for us.

We can get caught up in stories that are off-base or chase wild gooses made of dead-end plots. When we share our works, someone can say, “That doesn’t seem right for that god.” The point isn’t to get it right. The point is to explore. There have been stories I’ve written for certain spirits that belong to others. I’ve only discovered that much later. Some stories I just needed to tell for the telling.

Focus on the ideas you do have, and get them out.

Elliot suggested that I put forth ideas and guidelines for writing fanfic in the Otherfaith. Keep in mind there aren’t any real rules to writing fic. I’ll be presenting these in question-answer format.

Where can ideas come from?

Anywhere. There’s no need to wait for divine revelation. A song, movie, show, or scene may make you think of a god or spirit. Think about why. Write that down or share it. Don’t be surprised if you’re contemplation on the connection bleeds into a story. There’s not need to restrict yourself to a binary of reflection vs. stories. They influence and blend into each other, strengthening each.

The third Madoka movie (an extension of the popular Puella Magi Madoka Magica anime) personally influenced/solidified the imagery of the Laetha being split apart. The song ‘Broken’ by Cherryholmes helped me understand aspects of the Dierne. Pretty much every story I’ve written had a background song on endless loop.

Should I write stories in a specific order?

No. Write whatever comes to you. It may be Hell Month, but if you want to write a passionate love story between the Laetha and Dierne, go for it. You’re tapping into something, after all. Don’t hold yourself back because of timing.

You don’t need to start with a story about the Clarene and work your way down. Start with the spirits that interest you. That is what will make your stories interesting and strong – and most likely to tap into a spiritual connection. I’ve forced myself to write stories because it was the ‘right’ time or I ‘should’, and they always turned out flimsy and weak. Go with your gut and your inspiration. If you need prompts or ideas, that’s fine, but don’t feel forced into a structure.

How seriously should I take it?

As seriously as you can while actually writing. If considering writing about the gods and spirits paralyzes you with fear, think of them as characters. Don’t consider your story serious. Write a comedy or make everything comedic. Give yourself permission to not be bound by ‘rightness’.

Nine times out of ten my stories don’t go anywhere anyway.

Take it seriously when a god shows up and says, “No!” or “Yes!” Take is seriously when you get a tingle in your spine that says you’re stepping on toes. Take it seriously when your fingers burn because the story feels just perfect. And take a break when your hands hurt from writing too much.

There have been times when I’ve been tinkering around and felt a chill, thinking I shouldn’t have written what I did. I cross a line, insult a spirit or misinterpret them. I haven’t been struck down (yet). I just apologize and erase or cross out what I wrote. At least I learned something. Sometimes I’ll write scathing dialog or lines about a spirit, and my gut aches but I know that the words fit. They’re just uncomfortable. The only way you’ll know your own tells and how the spirits prod at you is through experimentation. Apart from that, you have people who can point out when you’re being a bit harsh or inappropriate in your descriptions of the gods.

Should I pray before writing/creating?

If you want. If you find it helpful and want to reach out to the gods that way, certainly. I don’t tend to. Most of my writing leads to more cursing and frustration with the spirits, though that is how I prefer it. I get a lot more out of them when we’re poking each other. You may benefit from a more established devotional creation style. It’s really up to you and whether you consider what you’re doing to be devotion or in need of prayer.

How long should stories be?

As long as they work – in a way.

When writing the story of the Verzsou Triad spirits (spirits born from the Ophelia, Laetha, and Clarene), I filled up a notebook with multicolored ink. The story was, and is, nonsensical, but I enjoyed writing it and learned a lot when I did. I know more about the backbone of those spirits’ relationships.

All that you might get out of an idea is a paragraph or two. Maybe just a sentence. Maybe something you hear strikes out at you and you scribble it down, hoping for it to grow into something substantial and it never really does. But in your head it churns about into a larger idea that shapes your religious life. That makes it worthwhile. Rather than a story, you may have a concept or image to share.

Sometimes you’ll get a story going, though. You might just want to delve into a vague idea or you may have a plot in mind, certain points you want to hit. I wrote the Founding of the West by drawing storytelling cards to help with plotting. Ava at the Gate was based on the prompt of ‘life’. Sometimes I’ll lose steam in the middle of a story, and it never gets finished.

The value a story has to you personally, when you work on it, often doesn’t relate to length. There have been plenty of times when a grand story I wanted to write morphed into a footnote in a different one.

When a story is being shared, however, it does need some semblance of sense and context. I’m currently working on a Tumblr for short and uncompleted fanfics in the Otherfaith. This would allow us to share stories that provide interesting ideas about the gods but which either aren’t going anywhere plot-wise or which are simply too small to be considered full myths. In process scenes and such would also be welcome. I will be posting links and encouraging others to submit when it is ready. For a story to be useful to others, it usually requires context of setting or time and enough character introspection or interaction to shed light on the spirits involved. However, it’s a learning process, figuring out what helps others, so there isn’t a hard and fast word limit.

Can I put in self-inserts?

Yeah. Want to put yourself in a story as a side character that doesn’t get much attention? Go for it. Want to situate yourself as a character narrating or watching or otherwise closer to the action? Sure thing.

You’re going to bleed into the work, no matter what. You’re going to bring your interpretations and preferences and life experiences to the story when you’re writing it. How you interpret the spirits is going to show through your words. It’s going to affect how you interact with them anyway. Who you are intertwines with how the story is.

One important thing is that self-inserts, whether simple characters or more based in any journey work you’re doing, aren’t there to be worshiped or given devotion to. Writing is a good way to get caught up in the spirits, though, so don’t be surprised if you find yourself more intimate with them than you thought – especially if you decide to poke your own nose in. (We may call it fanfic, but it still involves actual spirits and entities.)

‘Self inserts’ may happen naturally or not. As with pretty much everything, go with what works.

Should I worry about plot?

Go with a more National Novel Writing Month approach – write for the sake of writing it out. Don’t worry about it making sense or fitting perfectly together. Don’t care about the internal logic. Just get it out. Then you can go back and review it. Once you get the story out, you’ll be much better at editing out the nonsense. You’ll also be better at feeling out what really fits with the gods and spirits. You’ll have to confront gaps in the story’s logic.

Stuff like where’s the setting? Why is the setting? Why the specific spirits? When is the time that everything is happening?

That’s all for after you get it out. You’ll tie yourself in endless knots if you try to analyze before you even get a word on the page; you’ll stifle yourself if you keep editing even a thousand words in.

You’ll also be able to look at what you wrote afterword and be able to consider if it’s even viable as a story. It might not be, and that’s fine.

Can I use non-textual media to make stories?

You can use whatever works best for your type of story. Use comics or illustration. Make a song or record the story you have rather than writing it down. Any type of creation you can think of and utilize, you are more than free to use. Writing may be my preferred art, but you’re not bound to it.

Plus, some stories need to be told in different ways.

The main thing to focus on, throughout all this, is what works. You’re the one that figures that out.

Thank you for reading. ‘Of the Other People’ is a site dedicated to the Otherfaith, a modern polytheist god religion. We are supported through Patreon and want to give special thanks to our patrons Jack at Drawing Stars and Leithin Cluan at Treasure in Barren Places. If you enjoy the writing here, consider becoming a patron!

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